Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Leaving a permanent impression

When Ann Murray, art history professor and director of Beard and Weil Galleries, arrived on campus in the fall of 1974 she immediately took on one of her biggest challenges— organizing, documenting and protecting Wheaton’s art collection.

That scattered collection of items, in Murray’s hands, has become the college’s very cohesive Permanent Collection. As she retires in May, the collection—along with the many gallery exhibitions she curated—stands as a testament to her many accomplishments at Wheaton.

Wheaton’s eclectic collection consists of paintings, drawings and prints, as well as sculptures, antiquities, textiles, artists’ books, Native American baskets and decorative arts. Original prints by Dali, Goya, Miró, Picasso, Rembrandt and Whistler are among the items.

And it is an accessible collection. As Murray points out: There are not many places where a student can hold (in a gloved hand) an original etching by Rembrandt.

Hunting for treasure

Gignoux, Autumn

Autumn by Régis François Gignoux, circa 1860–1862. Gift of Mrs. Thomas (Mary Rich) Richardson.

Surprisingly, the effort to gather together all of the works comprising the Permanent Collection (which was not even in Murray’s job description) began like a game of hide-and-seek, because many of them were all over campus. Shortly after she arrived at Wheaton, armed with a list and accompanied by her part-time gallery assistant, she would go on what she calls a “treasure hunt.”

“We would go on expeditions around campus looking for paintings, because we had found lists of works that were supposed to be here. But we didn’t know where they were,” she says. “Administrative offices sometimes had paintings, and when people would leave, they would just put the painting that had been hanging on the wall in a closet. And then the next person who came might or might not think to bring it back. It might just stay in the closet for a long time.”

Surprising “finds”

Dürer, The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son by Albrecht Dürer, 1496. Gift of Mrs. Newton G. Loud (Helen Lewis, Class of 1921).

Some works were found in a former barn behind a campus house located across the street from Murray’s Watson Fine Arts office. Some were found stored in a crawl space under a heating duct in Watson, several more in the attic of the library, and elsewhere. Not unsurprisingly, many of the found works were not in good condition. So Murray has spent a great deal of time having pieces restored, with the support of grants and gifts.

The college has received several grants from what is now the Massachusetts Cultural Council on the Arts, as well as from The Bay and Paul Foundations in New York. The Wheaton College Friends of Art has provided generous funding for conservation over the past several years and continues to do so. Most recently the college received a $5,000 grant for conservation from the Cricket Foundation, which was matched by the Friends of Art.

The majority of paintings in the collection have undergone conservation, but the work is ongoing, notes Murray. Much of that has been done by painting conservator Susan Werner O’Day ’77, one of Murray’s early students.

Daumier, Le Placeur

Le Placeur by Honoré Victorin Daumier, 1842, purchased with Shippee Memorial Fund.

For many years, students worked with Murray on the collection, gathering data and cataloging information. Gradually, they compiled a database that eliminated the need for accession cards.

Applauding Murray

College Archivist Zephorene Stickney praises Murray for her dedicated efforts: “Ann is to be applauded not only for bringing together the Permanent Collection, but also for realizing that there was a collection scattered about the campus, and convincing those of us who had artworks to have them accessioned as part of the collection and moved to Watson.”

Now Leah Niederstadt, assistant professor of museum studies, is in charge of the collection. Before she began in 2008, there was no designated collections curator. Murray did the job, along with all of her other responsibilities.

Niederstadt recently worked with Kayla Malouin ’10, who curated Collection/ Reflection: A History of Wheaton’s Permanent Collection. The exhibition, on display in March and April in Beard Gallery, highlighted the vital role that individuals and families have played in building the collection through their donations of art.

In addition to the work on the collection, Murray by the end of this year will have curated 143 shows in the galleries (currently up to nine per year), which is what she was originally hired to do.

Wedgwood candlestick

Candlestick, Wedgwood company, 1925. Gift of Dr. Victoria Cass, Class of 1934.

Stickney points out that the professor also gave the collection an academic focus by using it to teach students.

Murray has taught 19th- and 20th-century art history courses, senior seminars, and lectured in the team-taught art history survey. The last senior seminar she taught produced an exhibition called The Realist Impulse: Painting and Sculpture from the Wheaton College Collection, 1830–1940. Eleven students researched and wrote essays on 58 works of art that are now documented in a 132-page catalog. Another exhibition and catalog—An American Composer Looks at Egypt: Ruth Lynda Deyo and the Diadem of Stars (1999)—led to research that Murray plans to continue after she retires.

Looking back, she says, one of the most rewarding experiences has been working on the catalogs with students and watching them gain valuable research skills as they dug for firsthand knowledge.

“The joy of finding things out that you didn’t know before and finding out that, in fact, it was really quite important, and helping students to make those discoveries, has been great,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed it all.” Q

Diving into technology

Whenever Brandon Waltz ’11 explores the Internet, he says he is always drawn to interactive web sites that have visual special effects and lots of “other bells and whistles.”

“I always tell myself, ‘I want to do that. I want to be the one who produces something like this,’” he said.

This winter the computer major sharpened his skills to do just that. He and several other students gave up part of their winter break to take the new January Technology Immersion Program, which offered two weeks of intensive, all-day study in graphic and web design. The brainchild of faculty technology liaison Jenni Lund, the class was taught by faculty technology liaisons Patrick Rashleigh and Ken Davignon.

Park web site

Waltz dove into the web design class. Working on a team of three, he helped design a web page for “clients” Professor of Psychology Grace Baron and College Archivist Zephorene Stickney. (Another team redesigned web pages for a local food pantry.) The web page, which is located on Wheaton’s redesigned site, highlighted “The Art and Life of Jessica Park: Windows on the World of Autism” exhibit that was on display at the library from March 1 to April 11.

“I was basically the chief engineer,” said Waltz. “I had a good understanding of what the client wanted, and a good arsenal of skills, which I have gained through my major, to get it done. Our group was constrained from the start because we knew that we were essentially constructing a prototype/suggestion site that needed to fall within the recently redesigned Wheaton web site. We knew that Wheaton’s real web team might not want to use it. So designwise we didn’t have much leeway.

“The biggest challenge that I had to work through was trying to use the template that was given to us, decipher all the professional HTML and CSS code to make our changes, to make the site more or less the way we wanted it to be. So my overall goal was to make it as close to the Wheaton site as possible, and good enough.”

It was more than good enough, noted Baron, who was delighted with the design. “Brandon’s enthusiasm was evident from the start, and he, too, has helped to give us a window on the world of autism,” she said.

Kenya Bryant ’12, a sociology major, took the graphic design class. She wanted to help broaden her choices for summer opportunities.

“This summer I’m applying for internships in advertising, magazine publishing and marketing,” she said. “Most of the programs I’ve looked into ask if you have experience with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Since I’ve never been introduced to either, I thought the class would be helpful.”

The most valuable lesson she (and likely the other students) learned? “Patience,” she said. Q

Web upgrade

Wheaton has launched a renovated web site, following an intensive, 10-month effort that involved extensive consultation and feedback from the entire college community.

The launch of Wheaton’s new web site represents the completion of the first (and most dramatic) phase of a longer-term effort to enhance the college’s web presence and engage the entire community in telling Wheaton’s story as effectively as possible.

On the surface, users will notice that the site’s design coordinates with the college’s graphic identity standards, including its Wheaton blue wrapping on every page and the college’s seal in the banner at the top of the home page. Numerous enhancements will make the site easier to use for repeat users and first-time visitors.

It also features a gallery of profiles about students, alums and faculty members. And you are invited to tell us your story. Check it out at www.wheatoncollege.edu. Q

New Wheaton homepage

Science rising

The Wheaton College Board of Trustees has voted to move forward with construction of the new science center project, despite the difficult economic forces buffeting the nation’s colleges and universities.

The 99,000-square-foot project, which includes the construction of a new three-story building and the renovation of the first floor of the existing science building, will expand and improve facilities for scientific and interdisciplinary scholarship as well as further the college’s “Connections” curriculum.

In addition, the project has been designed to enhance the college’s efforts in promoting sustainability and environmental conservation, from the installation of energy-efficient systems and a “green” roof to architectural features that will control water runoff on the site. “This project makes a bold statement about Wheaton’s commitment to the sciences and to high-quality liberal arts education for all students,” said President Ronald Crutcher.

“This investment reflects our belief that scientific literacy and research are critical components of a 21st-century liberal arts education.

“Our new science center builds on what makes Wheaton distinctive. The design for the project encourages active learning and collaboration, and it will allow our students and faculty to fully develop the ‘Connections’ curriculum, which strengthens students’ capacity to engage the perspectives of multiple disciplines.”

The cost of the building is approximately $42 million. More than half the funding ($27 million) will come from gifts to the college for the project. Work will begin this spring; the project will be completed in the fall of 2011.

The new building will contain classroom, lab and office space, as well as greatly expanded common spaces for the college. It will serve as the home for biology, chemistry, and cognitive and behavioral neuroscience. Math, physics and computer science will be located in the renovated portion of the existing facility.

Among the laboratories that will be created will be multi-use labs uniquely suited to collaborative, interdisciplinary research among students and faculty, said Tommy Ratliff, associate professor of mathematics and the faculty coordinator for the project.

“When this project is complete, our students are going to have the space they deserve for the outstanding work they do,” he said. In addition, the new building will include classrooms outfitted for transformation into research labs, allowing the science program room to evolve as students’ needs change.

Beyond its goals to provide new facilities for the sciences, the new science center will also provide more community spaces such as study lounges and a café. These features will facilitate collaboration among students and faculty, allowing for formal learning and teaching as well as the informal interactions that build a sense of community.

Designed by Einhorn Yaffe Prescott, the new center will incorporate a host of features that will enable the building to earn LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a nationally recognized benchmark for sustainable buildings established by the U.S. Green Building Council. Q